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Why NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission is Important to Making Mars Journey a Reality

Sep 16, 2016 05:03 AM EDT
Asteroid capture
NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission is one of the most ambitious projects ever conceived by the agency, and it is believed to be “an important step” for getting humans to Mars.
(Photo : NASA / Wikimedia Commons)

The Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) is one of NASA's most ambitious projects to date, and it will play an important role in the agency's Mars journey.

The five-year mission is composed of two parts: the first one will be a robotic spacecraft that will be sent to an asteroid to retrieve a giant boulder and bring it to an orbit near the moon, and another will be an astronaut crew to be launched aboard NASA's Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket to visit the boulder to collect a pristine asteroid sample.

Scientists believe asteroids contain remnants of the early solar system, and these space fragments could provide clues about the origin and formation of Earth. But more importantly, ARM will also serve as a test run for technologies that will be used for a manned mission to Mars.

During a briefing on ARM updates at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland on Sept. 14, NASA administrator Charles Bolden discussed how the mission could contribute to the Journey to Mars program and the protection of the planet.

According to NASA, ARM will demonstrate Mars-level capabilities for future nearby explorations and fly missions with the technologies and operational constraints NASA will encounter en route to the Red Planet. Likewise, the mission will test techniques that could be used in diverting an asteroid that might impact the Earth in the future.

Rehearsal for Mars Journey

What role does ARM play in the Journey to Mars?

According to Bolden, ARM will require human operations in cislunar space, which is the region of space between the Earth and the moon's orbit. Unlike current missions that are Earth-based and are therefore easy to troubleshoot, resupply and rescue, ARM and future Mars mission will stretch NASA's capabilities.

Also, the mission will also enable astronauts to practice being far away from Earth--the farthest so far even in the Apollo days. According to Bolden, NASA will have to figure out how to resupply crew and test technologies. Proving their capability of carrying out human operations in cislunar orbit is the "most important step on the mission to Mars," Bolden said.

The cislunar operations are expected to begin by 2020s, Inverse reports. Bolden also expects that NASA would work in conjunction with private ventures, such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, as well as academic institutions to address the challenges involved in the mission.

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